Knowing when to say when

Published 8:17 pm Wednesday, May 5, 2010

As Gov. Bob McDonnell’s ABC Privatization Task Force meets for the first time, it is our hope and expectation that this process will be one of inclusiveness and transparency. As the commonwealth’s largest retail association, the Virginia Retail Federation will participate and report back to our members and the public.

Having the state exit the alcohol business is an idea with merit, but only under the right circumstances. For the commonwealth, it would be easy to sell off the stores to a few out-of-state chains and make some quick money.

However, doing what’s easy doesn’t always mean doing what’s right. As an organization, the Virginia Retail Federation’s sole purpose is to support and protect Virginia businesses. We hold no animosity toward our “big box” competitors; we only seek to ensure that Virginia-based retailers are competing on an even playing field.

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For this very reason, we will vigorously advance our position that this process be 100-percent inclusive, meaning that every Virginia merchant with an interest has the opportunity to obtain these coveted ABC licenses.

Regardless of what form privatization takes, we do know that Virginia will not issue them in unlimited numbers. While the quantity of locations may increase, Virginians have no interest in the unrestrained proliferation of liquor stores.

This means that possessing a license will provide the holder with a significant competitive advantage over other retailers, especially if they sell additional products, such as groceries and convenience-store items.

It would therefore be wholly unfair to award such an economic plum to a few large corporations. That would tilt the economic balance and remove the incentive for competitive pricing.

It should also be noted that Virginia has historically confined liquor sales to state-owned stores to maintain a certain element of control and guarantee responsible business practices. Privatization should not mean complete abdication of this role to the private sector.

In fact, by providing equal opportunities to Virginia-based businesses, localities will likely establish even greater control, knowing that friends and neighbors are operating these stores.

With this in mind, the holder of an ABC liquor license should be considered a steward of community values as well as a business owner.

Privatization holds many benefits. It can provide much-needed funds for transportation and the promise of more competitive pricing. However, we must put Virginia first.

The state’s locally owned businesses form the backbone of our economy, and we trust that the governor, his task force and the General Assembly will be mindful of this as they work toward consensus.

Susan Milhoan is President & CEO of the Retail Alliance and can be reached at 466-1600 or Nancy Thomas is President & CEO of the Retail Merchants Association and can be reached at 804-662-5514 or The Virginia Retail Federation is the advocacy arm for their respective organizations.